You splurged and bought a really nice multivitamin. And then it got lost in your cupboard. For a year. So the question becomes: Do vitamins expire? Can you still use them even after they have gone past the expiration date?
Unlike prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication, which must carry a clear expiration date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is much more lenient with vitamins and supplements. Vitamin and supplement companies can include expiration dates on product labels, but they’re voluntary. However, if they choose to include them, the supplement or vitamin expiration date must be accurate.
“If you see some type of expiration date,” Tod Cooperman, the president of ConsumerLab.com, a popular independent testing company said to The New York Times, “the manufacturer is legally required to have stability data demonstrating the product will still have 100 percent of its listed ingredients until that date.”
Most reputable supplement companies will include expiration dates, but keep in mind, they’re often very conservative because it benefits the company to make them shorter. The shorter the expiration date, the more often you have to replace the product. The vitamin company doesn’t care if you don’t finish the whole bottle. Ingredients in vitamins do decompose over time, making them less potent, but not dangerous. The only way they could be dangerous is if there's mold.
While there have been no documented cases of people getting sick from expired vitamins, there’s no need to take a chance. If you open a bottle and it smells rancid or has changed color since you originally bought it, throw it out. And remember, you’re likely taking vitamins for health reasons, so if they’re ineffective, what’s the point in taking them? That’s why it’s best to throw them out if you’re well past the expiration dates.
Store your vitamins away from heat, light, and humidity, and they should last you about two years. B vitamins especially degrade when they’re exposed to light. Additionally, some supplements, like certain fish oils for example, should actually be stored in the refrigerator.
When it’s time to replace your vitamins, make sure you choose a quality product. When choosing a vitamin, look for ingredients that come from whole foods and weren’t created synthetically. Read the label and look for terms like “whole food multivitamin” or “all ingredients derived from whole foods”. For example, if vitamin C is added synthetically it’s often labeled as ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is vitamin C, but it’s not vitamin C in its whole form. So often if you see it listed, you know that other ingredients in the product are likely also synthetic.
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